The parenting candidate

Campaign 2010

As Election Day approaches, candidates are bringing out their children. The grown daughter of Connecticut Senate candidate and ex-wrestling executive Linda McMahon recounts how her mother has inspired her. Candidates in Florida, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Ohio have similarly aligned themselves with their children, and the children with them.

It's good politics in the final days of a campaign, the experts say, because it ends things on a positive note. In other words, children are considered a positive in the evaluation of political candidates.

Except where they're not, as some politicians allege in the Oklahoma gubernatorial race. In a recent debate, candidate Mary Fallin had this to say:

"I think my experience is one of the things that sets me apart as a candidate for governor. First of all, being a mother, having children, raising a family."

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Some consider this a cheap shot, because Fallin's opponent, Jari Askins, has never been married and is childless. New York Times Motherlode blogger Lisa Belkin wisely offers the flip side as well, in the form of California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman's grown sons, who appear to be unsavory sorts, such that she doesn't mention them in her campaigning. "Is managing-or mismanaging-a family," Belkin asked, "relevant to running a state?"

It's a great question, and one I've touched on here in the past. On the one hand, I can sympathize with those who believe you've got to bring more to the table, if you want to lead people in a political capacity, than a track record of competent parenting. I'm skeptical of a candidate who imagines, as Mary Fallin seems to suggest, that her chief qualification for governor is her status as a parent. After all, I know plenty of wonderful mothers and fathers who haven't the grounding in economics and policy analysis or the skills as public speakers and consensus builders to be effective officeholders. At least not by my standards.

On the other hand, if someone has raised a brood of vipers, then I'm inclined to question his character. After all, I see my sins reflected in the sins of my children. If they grow up morally ungrounded and lacking self-control, that says a lot about my own moral centering and spiritual fortitude. So on the question of how one's children have turned out, I consider "quite well" to be a necessary but not sufficient condition for my vote.

But then we have those politicians who have no children at all. I know saintly people who are childless and unmarried, so I wouldn't consider that an automatic negative. But they have purposefully walked a path of deep spiritual discipline and self-sacrifice-for a cause, or people in need, or perhaps in the prayer cell.

I confess I'm far more skeptical of people who choose a life of singleness and/or childlessness but who don't replace these sanctifying callings with something that requires a profound other-orientation. A good parent and spouse learns to die to himself daily. So does a godly ascetic, and a mission worker. But someone who is none of these runs a great risk, it seems to me, of being shallower than I would like a leader to be.

Perhaps I'm being a Pollyanna to expect politicians not to be shallow, but a man can dream, can't he?


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